Health Team

Jaw pain, headaches may be sign of TMD

Posted November 21, 2014 6:00 p.m. EST

About six out of 10 people have some form of a jaw joint disorder called temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD.

The pain isn't always just in the jaw itself, so many doctors misdiagnose the problem.

That’s what happened to 53-year-old Allyson Edwards, who saw many doctors about her chronic earaches and tension headaches.

“I have had pain for approximately, I would say, 20 years,” she said.

Edwards saw her primary care physician and an ear, nose and throat specialist.

“They didn't know what to do and where to send me,” she said.

Finally, her dentist referred her to the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to see orofacial pain specialist Dr. P.F. Lim.

Lim diagnosed Edwards with TMD.

“Very often, patients can present with pain in the face, the jaw area, clicking, popping sounds in the joint,” Lim said. “Sometimes the jaw can lock.”

For Edwards, the pain appeared in different places and worsened during times of stress and tension.

“It would be in my lower teeth,” she said. “It would go to my neck and my shoulders.”

Lim helped Edwards with a variety of therapies, including pain relief injections and a special orthotic. Edwards also found help with acupuncture.

“I can honestly tell you, after three sessions of acupuncture, my headaches were gone,” she said.

Dental acupuncture is also an option that is available to treat pain disorders involving the mouth and face.

Edwards comes back to Lim for follow-up visits and adjustment of prescriptions and therapies. She said she’s thankful to know the root of the problem and find effective solutions.

“Ever since I've come here, the pain is gone,” she said.

The UNC School of Dentistry has outreach efforts to the medical community to help increase awareness of TMD and its symptoms so other doctors can better recognize it and refer patients to the appropriate specialists.